Book Review: Digger Cartwright’s The House of Dark Shadows

darkshadowTitle: The House of Dark Shadows
Author: Digger Cartwright
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Rating: 5 out of 5
My Copy: Complimentary copy won via LibraryThing

I’m a big fan of psychological thrillers because nothing turns out the way you thought it would. Digger Cartwright does a phenomenal job with The House of Dark Shadows. I thought I had everything figured out due to the clues he gave us along the way, but I was blown off course. The ending isn’t exactly what you expect nor is it your typical Hollywood ending, but it fits.

Alex Rommel has everything a bachelor could ask for. He’s successful at his job and quite the ladies man, but he’s missing the love of his life. Years ago Shannon left him and he’s been haunted with memories of her and desperately searches for her. He runs into an old university friend, Brad, at a café and Brad mentions how he’s met the love of his life. He introduces Lisa to Alex and when Alex inquires how they met, Brad tells him the internet. Alex is skeptical because you never know who is behind the screen, but needless to say he’s intrigued. As he prepares to leave the café he overhears Brad tell Lisa about the rumors surrounding Alex, he killed an ex-girlfriend; however, both of them disregard the rumors. Later that evening, Alex signs up for internet dating and meets the perfect woman, Hope. Little does he know he’s about to step into a tangled world of deception and the person he thought he could trust the most turns out to be his biggest enemy.

In terms of character development, it’s strong and the writing is engaging. Cartwright has a business background and he does a great job taking elements from the business world and incorporating them into the narrative. At times it was difficult to sympathize with Alex because he’s particular in his ways and yet when he first receives that phone call from Hope’s mother you can’t help but want to yell “run from the crazy Alex!” He has a trusted mentor, Thomas, but for the most part he was too closed off and only allowed a selected few into his inner circle of trust and ultimately this is where Alex went wrong. Alex also suffers from nightmares and in many ways foreshadows a lot of what happens to Alex and shows us what happened to Shannon. It’s Alex who refuses to look into it and it’s proof he’s a man running from his own demons.

In a day and age where you can virtually find any information about a person, I’m surprised Alex didn’t take the initiative to further look into Hope’s background. If the house on the street is the only one that doesn’t look right, search the house address and find out what you can. I remind myself had Alex done this, we wouldn’t have a story. I had all sorts of theories regarding Hope. At one point Alex is told Shannon was beaten to the point where she needed reconstructive surgery and a piece of me held out hope (no pun intended) that it was Hope. I’m not saying anymore about the plot, but I loved it.

There are some unanswered questions, but I just file them away as answered since the ending I believe confirms Alex’s suspicion when Thomas tells him, “you should have given them what they wanted.” Thomas calls this a mind-fuck when Alex asks him what everything around him is at that moment (I’m not saying what it is for fear of spoilers) and oh this book was definitely one.

If you’re a fan of psychological thrillers or looking to try a new genre, I highly recommend The House of Dark Shadows. I’ve never read Digger Cartwright before and I’m looking forward to reading more of his work.

Book Review: Lauren Willig’s The Ashford Affair

ashfordTitle: The Ashford Affair
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: No
Rating: 5 out of 5
My Copy: Advance Reader Copy courtesy of St. Martin’s Press

If you’re familiar with Lauren Willig’s books, then you know she often combines narratives from the past with the present. The Ashford Affair isn’t any different and incorporates the narratives of both Clementine (in the present) and Addie’s (the past). This is Addie’s story, but in many ways, it’s also Clementine’s. Clementine is on journey to realize what truly matters in life.

Clementine Evans arrives late to her grandmother’s birthday celebration and is surprised when her grandmother calls her Bea. She asks her mother about Bea, but doesn’t get a direct answer. In fact, Clementine asks around and slowly a family secret is unearthed. Bea was a cousin of Granny Addie and through a series of flashbacks we’re told Addie’s story. Addie comes to live with the Earl of Ashford following the death of her parents. On her first night she’s befriended by one of the Earl’s daughters, Beatrice; Bea takes Addie under her wing and both become fast friends. As the narrative progresses, we see Addie grow up and on the night of the Earl’s eldest daughter’s presentation to society, Bea and Addie decide to view the ball in progress. Unfortunately, Bea brings along a pet mouse and accidentally lets go of it and Addie afraid it will be trampled to death goes to rescue Binky. Lucky for Binky she’s saved by a young man and Addie is instantly smitten. The next day, they run into each other and he introduces himself as Fredrick. Addie never forgets him and when she runs into him several years later she’s surprised and happy he remembers her. Fredrick and Addie spend time together attending a series of lectures and musical concerts and she introduces him to Bea. Addie is heartbroken when Frederick marries Bea and she goes on with her life as best she can. Five years later, she’s asked to visit to Kenya and putting her feelings aside for Fredrick she decides to visit. The Ashford Affair is a beautiful story about a love between two people and the heartache that comes with having to live with one’s mistakes.

In terms of characterization, we have rich strong characters, but admit I wish we had more of Fredrick’s perspective. Especially when he’s trying to come to terms with what to do with Addie before he marries Bea. I would have loved to have read something about his thoughts of Addie in Kenya with him and Bea or what he was thinking when her visit was announced. Bea comes off as a spoiled bitch. I realize she’s a woman trapped in a world that is changing around her and she’s unsure of how to proceed. The year she was presented to society, she was the débutante of the year and highly sought after. As a daughter of an earl, she was brought up with the expectation of marrying into the aristocracy and not having to make her own way. I keep thinking about Bea and as much as I want to judge her and hate for what she ends up doing, I can’t because in the end, she made the ultimate sacrifice. Fredrick once accused her of being jealous of Addie and I have to agree with his assessment, but for Bea, the jealously wasn’t that Fredrick was interested in Addie. It was the fact Addie was going to leave her and have a happy life, while Bea remained miserable. As for our present day characters, it’s interesting how much Anna resembled Bea in her personality and her life choices; whereas Marjorie took after Addie. Clementine is a hybrid of the both women; having Bea’s features and Addie’s drive for success.

Fans of historical fiction are in for a real treat as Willig does a great job incorporating life in England before the First World War to how everyone adapts to the changing world afterwards. We go from soirees to the heat in Kenya. Willig gives us rich descriptions and when Addie complains of the heat and her sweat stained dress, you can vividly picture it. The Ashford Affair is well written and the only real complaint I have is that, it ended way too quickly. Then again I read this in less than two days. As for the mystery surrounding the family secret, I do wish Willig would have focused on a few key scenes. That being the photographs Clementine finds, but in the end Addie and Bea are allowed to keep their secrets. It’s because of that, I’ll let the past stay shrouded in mystery.

If you only read a few books a year, this is one book you have to read. If you’re looking into trying a new genre or are in a reading funk, pick up The Ashford Affair. To say I loved it is an understatement because I more than loved it. It’s a beautiful story and I’m not ashamed to say I broke down into tears more than once. This is one book I’ll be rereading more than once.

Book Review: Toni Aleo’s Taking Shots

takingTitle: Taking Shots
Author: Toni Aleo
Genre: Contemporary Romance / Sports
Series: Yes / Book 1
Rating: 3 out of 5
My Copy: Purchased

Let me start off by saying, I’m a HUGE hockey fan (Dallas Stars!) and as a reader I’m aware of sports themed romance plots; however, I had no idea there were hockey related plots. It just never crossed my mind and when I came across Toni Aleo’s Taking Shots, I knew I had to read it immediately.

Eleanor Fisher has spent the last six years thinking no man would want her after her ex-finance treated her like dirt. She’s insecure about her about weight despite losing the weight she gained due to an illness. Elli is a former Broadway actress, but now she has a thriving career in Nashville as a photographer with a successful business. Her uncle, Bryan Fisher, owns the Nashville Assassins and hires her to take the team photos for the upcoming NHL season. She catches the eye of Captain Shea Adler and he’s quickly smitten, but she can’t believe a hunk like Adler would be interested in her. They both quickly fall in love, but will Elli’s insecurity threaten their happiness or will it be an outsider?

I liked Taking Shots and there are some swoon worthy moments. I LOVED the birthday surprise Adler organizes for Elli. Two words: Netherfield Ball. Yes, Elli is a big fan of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and even introduces Adler to the book and film. I really liked that he was open to the idea of reading Austen and took the time to actually read the book. Adler quickly adopts Elli’s dog and that was super nice to read. A majority of the plot does center around their families. I feel for Elli because she doesn’t have an ideal family, but Adler’s family totally makes up for it.

As for the writing, it is my understanding there were issues with the first edition of Taking Shots in terms of grammar, but I still found errors. I believe a lot of it has to do with the way Aleo writes: writes the way she talks. I can’t say for sure how she talks, but I’m making the assumption because some authors do write the way they talk. It doesn’t necessary distract a reader, but it does pull you out of the story from time to time.

I debated with the rating and in the end decided on a three. It would have been a solid four had Aleo edited some of the mundane portions such as the daily routines. I understand Elli’s insecurity with regards to her weight, but it was just annoying to read page after page about her weight issues. Adler was supportive and come on, if the hockey player I crushed on and was a HUGE fan of was interested me, I’d be throwing my off clothes right away and not be worried about this or that. Sport fans are familiar with the groupies and hockey players aren’t immune to the attention lavished on them by puck bunnies. So when there’s an incident with Adler and a puck bunny, I don’t know why Elli gets angry about it. It’s almost as if Adler never could catch a break. He had to constantly “prove” he loved her and when he tells her he does, she doesn’t say she loves him until 15% is left of the book. Additionally, Elli kept a lot of secrets regarding her ex-finance to that of her family’s background. I’m not sure why Adler was still interested in her especially since she kept so much hidden.

My favorite quotes:

Whoever coined the phrase ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder,’ was an idiot.

“Jeez! I thought you said you were just gonna set up the tree? It looks like Santa shit Christmas in here”

Despite a few hiccups, I’m going to read the entire series and see how Aleo’s writing progresses. I do appreciate the enthusiasm she brought with regards to hockey. As I stated, I am a hockey fan and could easily associate with the feelings regarding the game and I think non-fans will be able to appreciate the game a little more.

Book Review: Amy Maurer Jones’ April Drools

aprildroolsTitle: April Drools
Author: Amy Maurer Jones
Genre: YA / Paranormal
Series: Yes / Short 2
Rating: 5 out of 5
My Copy: Review Copy via Author

Synopsis:
Hardy Hunter, here (your favorite werewolf). Welcome back to Mundane High. Sadly, not much has changed since Valentine’s Day. You’d think my vampire BFF dating the very human captain of the football team would have made life a little easier for a supernatural at Mundane High, but no such luck. Samantha and I are still lonely outcasts looking for love in all the wrong places, but that’s no surprise. The vamp always gets the girl (or guy, in this case) in Hollywood, but what about the werewolf? Yeah, not so much—unless there’s a new she-were in town.

Claire Crescent is beyond beautiful, and I haven’t failed to notice. Unfortunately, my human male counterparts haven’t either. Making everything more complicated, the mate Claire left behind at her old school still haunts her heart. For the time being, I’m playing it smart by offering Claire my friendship. I pray, after time, my friendship with her will develop into something deeper.

How did that 1950s love song go? Why Do Fools Fall in Love? Um, yeah, you can say it: My life still sucks!

I adored April Drools! Of course there goes my theory of Hardy secretly crushing on Rhapsody. April Drools picks up a few months after Vampire Valentine takes place and our favorite couple Rhapsody and Reese are still together. This time, we get Hardy’s story and oh what a story it is!

Our three favorite supernatural beings are still misfits, even though the school has become more aware of them now that Rhapsody has been dating Reese. When the new girl, Claire, enrolls, every male has eyes for her and Hardy isn’t the exception. Taking one look at her, our favorite werewolf just turns into putty and he’s a bit upset when Rhapsody and Samantha approach her. Only because he’s not sure of what to make of her. Claire isn’t too thrilled to learn she’s one of four supernatural beings now enrolled. At her old school, they pretty much dominated the scene. Claire and Hardy quickly become fast friends, but when a fellow student begins to ask her out, Hardy’s temper flares because he’s protective of her. The two quickly become an item, but when they run into Claire’s ex-boyfriend at a local theater, will Claire’s feelings change?

I’m keeping quiet about the ending, but I had so much reading April Drools. Hardy is such a great character and Jones does a great job with his voice. I love the interaction between Rhapsody and Samantha with Hardy. The three truly are friends and as you read, you can easily feel the comradeship the three have. Rhapsody calls Hardy Fido with Samantha laughing along calling him Fee-Fee too. I really liked how Rhapsody and Samantha welcomed Claire into her inner circle. Ask anyone who has moved, it’s not easy being the new kid and to have two people welcome you with open arms is heartwarming. I felt Claire’s uneasiness at first and here Jones showcases how well she’s familiar with students.

April Drools is a fun read! If you haven’t read Vampire Valentine, I recommend it so you’re familiar with the characters. It’s okay to pick this up and dive right in if you’re so inclined.

Book Review: Aaron Cooley’s Shaken, Not Stirred

15995128Title: Shaken, Not Stirred (The Secret Files of I__ F______, Code Designate 17F)
Author: Aaron Cooley
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: Yes / Book 1
Rating: 5 out of 5
My Copy: Complimentary copy won via Melnore Press

Imagine for a moment Ian Fleming writing the opening scene of his first James Bond novel, Casino Royale. Do you ever wonder where he got the inspiration for the world’s most famous spy? Several candidates have been named, but in Aaron Cooley’s Shaken, Not Stirred, the spy who helps a young Fleming is none other than Dušan Popov. Names are changed, Popov becomes Dusan Petrović and Fleming is Ioan Phlegm. Cooley’s Shaken, Not Stirred is a fictionalized account of Ian Fleming’s wartime work, but it’s easy to imagine it really happening.

In Shaken, Not Stirred, a young Ioan is working for the Naval Intelligence and he’s sent to the Congo to find and report back to MI6 the whereabouts of double agent Dusan Petrović. His naiveté is apparent and he stands out like a sore thumb. While Petrović could have easily looked the other way, he takes Ioan under his wing and teaches him how to be a spy. At first Ioan isn’t sure what to make of Petrović and even the reader isn’t sure. Does Petrović have a master plan or does he feel sorry for Ioan? Perhaps this is the nature of a double agent. Together Ioan and Petrović navigate the perils of being agents and Ioan gets a little more than he anticipated. Throughout the novel, we get glimpses of what would eventually become Fleming’s James Bond. Ioan gets a code name and is introduced to gadgets Bond would be happy to use. We’re also introduced to would be Bond Girl, Christine who has a preference for martinis. It’s through Christine, Ioan quickly learns how women play a role in espionage. Petrović tells him, “ ‘ If you take one lesson from me, Phlegm, never forget the number one rule of espionage: Women are a business expense. You allow yourself to expect anything more out of them, you lower your defenses. To a knife in the back.’ ” It’s at this exact moment, a reader can understand Fleming and why women are the “business expense,” in a Bond novel.

I really enjoyed Cooley’s Shaken, Not Stirred. It’s thoroughly researched and well written. It’s a different take on the life of Ian Fleming. Wouldn’t it be awesome if Fleming himself had experienced everything Cooley writes? Fiction mixes with reality and as I stated, Cooley does a superb job with the research. Several events included are based on true events such as the Heisenberg and Diebner rivalry and it goes hand in hand with Hitler’s pursuit of the bomb. Petrović and several other characters bring up the ‘what if’ Hitler gets the bomb, which is a question a lot of people asked themselves at the time. Cooley kept me on the edge of my seat and afterwards all I could think of was, “thank god Hitler didn’t get there first.” It’s something you’ll be thinking as you read. A note on the spelling used: it is British and might throw off the reader and mistake it for spelling mistakes. Keep in mind Cooley is writing as Fleming and hence the reason for the use of British spelling.

Readers will easily recognize aspects of the Bond novels and films. In fact, if you’ve read Casino Royale or seen the film version, the scene where Bond watches Le Chiffre at the card table is familiar in Shaken, Not Stirred. This time it’s with Ioan and Petrović and a set of cards with Skorzeny and a game of Baccarat. Prior to Ioan joining Petrović and Skorzeny, Petrović sends him a suit and Ioan asks why. Petrović says it’s to seduce Christine and here we can see the birth of the immaculate Bond in his tux. It works well enough for Ioan since Christine waits for him in his room and says, “ ‘Why Ioan. I thought spies were meant to be suave. Deboniar.’
‘I was ill that day at spy school.’ ”

Favorite quote:

‘If you fictionalized my character, I could live a bit longer.’

Aaron Cooley’s Shaken, Not Stirred is without a doubt a must read for any James Bond fan. If you’ve wanted to try a spy thriller, this is a good starting point. I eagerly anticipate the next installment.

Book Review: Melissa R Smith’s Touch of Silver

touchofsilverTitle: Touch of Silver
Author: Melissa R Smith
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Yes / Book 3
Rating: 5 out of 5
My Copy: Review Copy via Author

Melissa R. Smith’s Touch of Silver is the eagerly anticipated sequel to Legacy. It can be read as a standalone if you don’t mind not knowing the back story; however, Smith does an excellent job keeping readers up to date without bogging down the reader in history. A new reader can easily read this book without too many spoilers.

Touch of Silver picks up where Legacy left off; months have passed since Roman and Devani last saw each other. She’s a prisoner at work with her all actions being reported to London and the Militia. Devai is surprised when Echo gets in touch and requests for her to change her work shift. Unaware of the reason, she reluctantly agrees and later that evening, she comes face to face with Roman. He explains he hasn’t stopped loving her and wants them to be together, but Devani resists because she knows London is watching and she wants to protect Roman. When an attempt is made on Devani’s life, she goes to Roman seeking his protection. Touch of Silver shows us the lengths a son will go through to keep his father’s legacy pristine and to hide a horrific secret.

I’ve been lucky enough to read Smith’s previous work. Touch of Silver has surprised me because it shows how much she’s grown as a writer and I do believe readers will enjoy her latest piece. The writing is engaging and witty. I loved the moment Roman meets with Devani and when their reunion is interrupted by Bethany knowing Bethany can make her life hell he says, “Say the word and I’ll drain her.” Touch of Silver is also heartbreaking. When Devani and Roman see the evidence Jake Daniels went to protect, you’re filled with heartache. The way Smith sets up the scene, as you read, you can feel it as the scene progresses. Echo’s disbelief at what she sees to Roman’s reaction will leave you emotionally drained. Then there’s London and what he orders the members of the Militia to do. You can feel his desperation at the lengths he’ll go to get what he wants. I don’t know what his fate is with regards to his appearance in a future book, but I hope the Sects get a hold of him.

Most of the characters from Legacy are featured and Smith goes into a more detailed background with regards to characterization. We get to know a little more about Tracy and I was surprised to find she was related to someone Devani knows. I really liked how Smith set up the prejudices people have against Sanguines. She also shows us the differences between the territories and we’re introduced to Phillip Trahan, the Elder in New Orleans. Oh Phillip! What an interesting character and I’m sure most readers will be left wanting more. The writing is engaging and detailed. One of my favorite scenes involves Echo playing Angry Birds:

“I can never get the silly boomerang bird to work right.” Echo was sitting on the count next to me. A magazine was in her lap, but she was playing Angry Birds on iPad instead. “I want to trade him in for that big red bird, now that sucker can break through anything.”

In the end, I loved Touch of Silver. Be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster. Please note: do not begin this book in the evening; otherwise you’ll experience a sleepless night because you won’t be able to put it down.

Book Review: Jessica Lemmon’s Tempting the Billionaire

temptingTitle: Tempting the Billionaire
Author: Jessica Lemmon
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Yes / Book 1
Rating: 5 out of 5
My Copy: Purchased

The romance genre is oversaturated with billionaire plots and even though I had my doubts, Jessica Lemmon’s Tempting the Billionaire was a pleasant surprise.

Crickitt Day is down on her luck and needs a job. Hoping to chase the blues away she agrees to a night out with her best friend Sadie. While at the bar Crickitt breaks down into tears as she takes stock of her life and what she’s lost. Across from Crickitt is Shane August and his cousin Aiden. Shane reluctantly agrees to go out with Aiden to help him get back into the dating scene. Aiden quickly zeroes in on Crickitt and seeing her tears assumes she’ll be easy to seduce; however, Shane takes one look at Crickitt and his heart stops. He’s interested in her and convinces Aiden that Crickitt’s friend is where his interest lies. When Shane begins to talk to Crickitt, she confesses she needs a job and acting on impulse he hands her his business card. She’s hesitant about the job interview and in fact turns down his offer, but reconsiders when he interviews her a second time. Both are clearly attracted to each other and Shane tries to set up guidelines of how to go about their relationship, but Crickitt doesn’t want what he’s offering. Realizing he can’t give her what she wants, they both agree to maintain a professional relationship. When Crickitt’s ex-husband calls her, Shane believes she’s gone back to him and what ensues is a beautiful story about a man and a woman realizing what true love is.

What I really liked about Tempting the Billionaire is the fact Shane is normal. He wears cargo pants and isn’t flashing his cash telling the whole world “oh look at me! I’m filthy rich!” When he does, it’s to help people who need it. He’s also not going around showing up where Crickitt is or demanding to know her whereabouts. Nor is he showering her with endless gifts. He’s not interested in buying her love, but rather he’s more interested in getting to know her. Shane does have some issues that are rooted in his past as a child. It’s easy to understand his reluctance at falling in love because he witnessed firsthand what it did to his father and he wants to spare his children the heartache he experienced. The scene in which he realizes he can’t live without Crickitt was the best. It’s also refreshing to read a book where the two protagonists are aware of their sexual attraction and have an adult conversation about what to do about it.

Some people think Crickitt is a doormat but I disagree. You have to take into account her past. Most people enter relationships with some baggage and what she has is normal for a woman who is divorced. Remember she’s only known one man and spent the past eleven years catering to him. Besides she’s perfectly able to stand up for herself and knows what she wants. When Shane takes off to distance himself from her, she had one of two of options. The first was to continue to work for him as his personal assistant or quit and leave him hanging. Instead she took the initiative and became the face of August Industries when Shane didn’t care.

Lemmon’s characters are believable and flawed. Her writing is engaging and witty. If I had been reading this book out in public, everyone would have seen the HUGE grin on my face. I had so much fun reading this and adore it immensely.

Some of my favorite quotes:

Women may throw themselves at you like live grenades, but the rest of us commoners have to come out of the trenches and hunt.

She looked at it a beat before taking it. “Crickitt.”
“Like the bug?” He flinched. Smooth.

Her mother pulled her to one side. “You stay as long as he needs you, you hear?”
Pimped out by my own parents. “Yes, Mother.”

I’m not ashamed to say I read this book in a day. I kept insisting I would only read one more chapter and just kept going. If you’re looking for a book with lots of sexual tension that will make your heart beat, this is the book for you. Heck if you’re just looking for a good fleshed out romance this is your book. There’s a side romance between Sadie and Aiden and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in book 2, Hard to Handle.